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"Very good dogs."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "The description for "Pick of the Litter" talks about following five puppies on "their quest to become guide dogs", but it's important to remember that they're puppies; if they have a quest, it's for scratches on their heads and treats in their bellies, with scratches on their bellies also very welcome. It can sometimes make for an odd experience for the audience, as it can sometimes be hard to keep one's eyes on the long-term goal." (more)
"Near-Death Of A Nation"
3 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "When Michael Moore sits down to make a movie in which he has a clear and specific topic that he wants to deal with—the economic devastation of his hometown of Flint, Michigan (“Roger & Me”), the culture of fear in America that has led to the proliferation of guns (“Bowling for Columbine”), the people that took advantage of the horror of 9/11 to advance their own agendas (“Fahrenheit 9/11”), the inequities and failure of the American health care system (“Sicko”)—the results have been some of the most powerful and provocative documentaries of this era. However, when he has gone into projects that didn’t have such a specific target that he could focus on with laser-like precision, as was the case with “The Big One,” “Capitalism: A Love Story” and “Where to Invade Next”—the results have been far more scattershot with his obvious passion and purpose crossing the line into outright hectoring. Oddly enough, his latest film, “Fahrenheit 11/9,” seems to be a combination of both of Moore’s usual approaches. On the one hand, a large part of the film feels curiously unfocused as he veers from topic to topic like a TV news program that is desperately afraid of losing the attention of the viewers for even a second. At the same time, a couple of the numerous narrative threads running through the film are so strong and powerful that they dominate the proceedings to the point where many viewers will find themselves wondering why Moore didn’t just center the film on those particular topics in the first place." (more)
"An Eli Roth Film. You Know--For Kids"
4 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "“The House With a Clock in Its Walls” is a film that contains any number of unexpected sights—ranging from the dead rising from the grave to Cate Blanchett zapping a collection of evil pumpkins into goo with the help of a trusty magic wand—but the most astonishing one of them all comes right at the beginning when it is revealed that this PG-rated throwback to the fantasy films of the 1980s that Steven Spielberg used to oversee through his Amblin Entertainment production shingle was directed by none other than Eli Roth, the auteur of such savagely violent horror films as “Hostel” and “The Green Inferno.” However, my surprise is not due simply because of the notion of a guy known for making gory exploitation films now making something for a younger audience—after all, Joe Dante started out doing things like “Hollywood Boulevard” and “Piranha” for Roger Corman before moving on to the likes of “Gremlins,” “Explorers” and “Innerspace” back in the day. No, my surprise is due to the discovery that Roth, who in the past has demonstrated himself to be a monumentally clumsy and lazy filmmaker whose works have essentially served as the cinematic equivalent of a kid repeatedly showing you his chewed-up food at the dinner table, has actually made a halfway decent film for the first time in his career, a goofy horror-comedy that demonstrates far more wit and style in any given scene than he has been able to muster up in any of his previous efforts." (more)
"Even Mikey Would Find This Impossible To Swallow"
1 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "When I first encountered the trailer for “Life Itself” a few weeks ago, it looked liked such a gauche and gimmicky piece of would-be Oscar bait that I was almost willing to give it the benefit of the doubt that it was an original and ambitious work that had been artlessly reduced to a couple of minutes of seemingly random moments by a studio marketing department that has no idea of how to properly introduce it to the public. After premiering at the Toronto FilmFestival a couple of weeks ago, I spoke to a couple of colleagues who saw it there who hastened to assure me that no, it really was just as bad as the trailer made it look. Once again, I was kind of willing to give it the benefit of the doubt since festival reactions tend to be the hottest of hot takes and the more extreme positions, both pro and con, should probably be taken with the proverbial grain of salts. However, now that I have finally seen “Life Itself,” I can assure you that both my initial impression of the trailer and the comments of my colleagues were both spot on as it truly is one of the smarmiest, stupidest and most hollowly manipulative films that I have ever seen in my life. This is a film that has been custom-designed to give viewers all of the feels and jerk as many tears as allowed by law but the only thing I felt while watching it was utter contempt and the only authentic tear that I shed was the one that came when I looked at my watch after it had been playing for what felt like four days and discovered that there was still about an hour left to go." (more)
"No 'Once Upon a Time', but not bad."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: That "Unity of Heroes" was made for a Chinese streaming service is no big surprise when you watch it; it's a movie that feels like it was put together by an algorithm, looks just good enough for a high-definition screen but maybe not a full-size cinema, and is a revival (of sorts) of something with a loyal fanbase. As with many American internet productions, it's familiar enough to be comfortable most of the time with a few scenes that nevertheless make it worth the time." (more)
"If this is farewell, it's a fittingly beautiful and strange one."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: When "Hanagatami" starts making the next phases of its rounds - the film societies and art-house tours before the small specialty label gives it a home video or streaming release - take note of its length, and fortify yourself properly. As much as there is plenty striking in this intended farewell work by the director of "House", and plenty to discuss, it is very much the sort of film that had festival-goers who saw it nodding to each afterward and agreeing that, whatever else it was, it was definitely 159 minutes long." (more)
"Another decade, another Predator."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... ""Predator" had no business spawning a franchise at all, and yet Twentieth Century Fox keeps trying because, while there's nowhere to take it without losing the sheer 1980s muscle-headed appeal of the original film, it's just too damn merchandisable. So roughly every ten years the try again, and it's not like they don't give it their best shot, but digging deeper into the mythology behind a dumb action movie is something of a fool's errand. This attempt to do so is pretty capable, in a disposable-paperback way, but even by those standards could have been more." (more)
"Messier but better than Moore's first 'Fahrenheit.'"
5 stars
Rob Gonsalves says... "Michael Moore’s 'Fahrenheit 11/9' is a sloppy but affecting essay about American crisis." (more)
"Equal parts excellent performances and art-house hooey."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Well, that's me done with Josephine Decker. I don't want to be. There are some terrific performances to be found in this movie, a pretty decent core story, and moments that feel like something approaching self-awareness. As with her previous work, I can see great talent and potential there. I want to say nice things. And the thing of it is, if I hadn't come into this movie with a chip on my shoulder about certain things from her previous films, I'd probably be a lot more impressed, although it's not like the things that put that chip there wouldn't still be big negatives." (more)
"A rebel in his gentle way."
5 stars
Rob Gonsalves says... "'Won’t You Be My Neighbor?' is a lovely film about a lovely man, Fred McFeely Rogers, known to generations of children as Mr. Rogers." (more)

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